Chapter no 49

A Court of Wings and Ruin

Nesta’s connection to the Cauldron, Rhys mused as we gathered around the dining table in the town house, had allowed her to sense that the King of Hybern was rallying its power.

The same way I was able to wield the connection to the High Lords to track their traces of power, and to find the Book and Cauldron, Nesta’s own power—own immortality—was so closely bound to the Cauldron that its dreadful presence, when awoken, brushed through her, too.

That was why he hunted her. Not just for the power she’d taken … but for the fact that Nesta was a warning bell.

We’d all departed the Dawn Court within minutes, Thesan promising large shipments of faebane antidote to every High Lord and army within two days, and that his Peregryns would begin readying themselves under his captain’s command—to join the Illyrians in the skies.

Kallias and Helion swore their own terrestrial armies would march as soon as possible. Only Tamlin, whose southern border covered the entire wall, was unaccounted for—his armies in shambles. Helion just said to Tamlin before the latter left, “Get your people out. Bring whatever host you can muster.” Whatever remained after me.

Tarquin echoed the sentiment, along with his promise to offer safe harbor for the Spring Court. Tamlin didn’t reply to either of them. Didn’t confirm that he would be bringing forces before he winnowed—without a glance at me. A small relief, since I hadn’t decided whether to demand his sworn help or spit on him.

Good-byes were brief. Viviane had embraced Mor tightly—then me, to my surprise. Kallias only clasped Rhys’s hand, a taut, tentative gesture, and vanished with his mate. Then Helion, with a wink at all of us. Tarquin was the

last to go, Varian and Cresseida flanking him. His armada, they’d decided, would be left to guard his own cities while the bulk of his soldiers would march on land.

Tarquin’s crushing blue eyes flared as his power rallied to winnow them. But Varian said—to me, to Rhys—“Tell her thank you.” He put a hand on his chest, the fine gold-and-silver thread of his teal jacket glinting in the morning sun. “Tell her …” The Prince of Adriata shook his head. “I’ll tell her myself the next time I see her.” It seemed like more of a promise—that Varian would see Amren again, war or no. Then they were gone.

No word arrived from Beron before we uttered our farewells and gratitude to Thesan. Not a whisper that Beron might have changed his mind. Or that Eris might have persuaded him.

But that was not my concern. Or Nesta’s.

If the wall had come down … Too late. We’d been too late. All of that research … I should have insisted that if Amren deemed Nesta nearly ready, then we should have gone directly to the wall. Seen what she could do, spell from the Book or no.

Perhaps it was my fault, for wanting to shelter her, build her strength, for letting her remain withdrawn. But if I had pushed and pushed …

Even now, seated around the town house dining table in Velaris, I hadn’t decided whether the potential of breaking my sister permanently was worth the cost of saving lives. I didn’t know how Rhys and the others had made such decisions—for years. Especially during Amarantha’s reign.

“We should have evacuated months ago,” Nesta said, her plate of roast chicken and vegetables untouched. It was the first words any of us had spoken in minutes while we’d all picked at our food.

Elain had been told—by Amren. She now sat at the table, more straight-backed and clear-eyed than I’d seen her. Had she beheld this, in whatever wanderings that new, inner sight granted her? Had the Cauldron whispered of it while we’d been away? I hadn’t the heart to ask her.

Rhys was saying to Nesta, “We can go to your estate tonight—evacuate your household and bring them back here.”

“They will not come.” “Then they will likely die.”

Nesta straightened her fork and knife beside her plate. “Can’t you spirit them away somewhere south—far from here?”

“That many people? Not without first finding a safe place, which would

take time we don’t have.” Rhys considered. “If we get a ship, they can sail—” “They will demand their families and friends come.”

A beat of silence. Not an option. Then Elain said quietly, “We could move them to Graysen’s estate.”

We all faced her at the evenness of her voice.

She swallowed, her slender throat so pale, and explained, “His father has high walls—made of thick stone. With space for plenty of people and supplies.” All of us made a point not to look at that ring she still wore. Elain went on, “His father has been planning for something like this for … a long time. They have defenses, stores …” A shallow breath. “And a grove of ash trees, with a cache of weapons made from them.”

A snarl from Cassian. Despite their power, their might … However those trees had been created, something in the ash wood cut right through Fae defenses. I’d seen it firsthand—killed one of Tamlin’s sentinels with an arrow through the throat.

“If the faeries who attack possess magic,” Cassian said, and Elain recoiled at the harsh tone, “then thick stone won’t do much.”

“There are escape tunnels,” Elain whispered. “Perhaps it is better than nothing.”

A glance between the Illyrians. “We can set up a guard—” Cassian began. “No,” Elain interrupted, her voice louder than I’d heard in months. “They

… Graysen and his father …”

Cassian’s jaw tightened. “Then we cloak—”

“They have hounds. Bred and trained to hunt you. Detect you.”

A stiff silence as my friends contemplated how, exactly, those hounds had been trained.

“You can’t mean to leave their castle undefended,” Cassian tried a shade more gently. “Even with the ash, it won’t be enough. We’d need to set wards at the very minimum.”

Elain considered. “I can speak to him.” “No,” I said—at the same moment Nesta did.

But Elain cut us off. “If—if you and … they”—a glance at Rhys, my friends—“come with me, your Fae scents might distract the dogs.”

“You’re Fae, too,” Nesta reminded her.

“Glamour me,” Elain said—to Rhys. “Make me look human. Just long enough to convince him to open his gates to those seeking sanctuary. Perhaps even let you set those wards around the estate.”

And with our scents to confuse the hounds … “This could end very badly, Elain.”

She brushed her thumb over the iron-and-diamond engagement ring. “It’s already ended badly. Now it’s just a matter of deciding how we meet the consequences.”

“Wisely said,” Mor offered, smiling softly at Elain. She looked to Cassian. “You need to move the Illyrian legions today.”

Cassian nodded, but said to Rhys, “With the wall down, we need you to make a few things clear to the Illyrians. I need you at the camp with me—to give one of your pretty speeches before we go.”

Rhys’s mouth twitched toward a smile. “We can all go—then head to the human lands.” He surveyed us, the town house. “We have an hour to prepare. Meet back here—then we leave.”

Mor and Azriel instantly winnowed out, Cassian striding for Rhys to ask him about the Court of Nightmares soldiers and their preparation.

Nesta and I aimed for Elain, both of us speaking at once. “Are you sure?” I demanded at the same time Nesta said, “I can go—let me talk to him.”

Elain only rose to her feet. “He doesn’t know you,” she said to me. Then she faced Nesta with a frank, bemused look. “And he hates you.”

Some rotten part of me wondered if their broken engagement was for the best, then. Or if Elain had somehow suggested this visit, right after Lucien had left Prythian, for some chance to … I didn’t let myself finish the thought.

I said, watching the space where my friends had vanished from the town house, “I need you to understand, Elain, that if this goes badly … if he tries to harm you, or any of us …”

“I know. You will defend your own.” “I will defend you.”

The vacancy fogged over her eyes. But Elain lifted her chin. “No matter what, don’t kill him. Please.”

“We’ll try—”

Swear it.” I’d never heard that tone from her. Ever.

“I can’t make that promise.” I wouldn’t back down, not on this. “But I will do everything in my power to avoid it.”

Elain seemed to realize it, too. She peered down at herself, at the simple blue gown she wore. “I need to dress.”

“I’ll help you,” Nesta offered.

But Elain shook her head. “Nuala and Cerridwen will help me.”

Then she was gone—shoulders a little squarer.

Nesta’s throat bobbed. I murmured, “It wasn’t your fault—that the wall came down before we could stop it.”

Steel-filled eyes cut to me. “If I had stayed to practice—”

“Then you just would have been here while you waited for us to return from the meeting.”

Nesta smoothed a hand down her dark dress. “What do I do now?”

A purpose, I realized. Assigning her the task of finding a way to repair the holes in the wall … it had given my sister what perhaps our human lives had never granted her: a bearing.

“You come with us—to Graysen’s estate, and then travel with the army. If you’re connected with the Cauldron, then we’ll need you close. Need you to tell us if it’s being wielded again.”

Not quite a mission, but Nesta nodded all the same.

Right as Cassian clapped Rhys on the shoulder and prowled toward us. He paused a foot away, and frowned. “Dresses aren’t good for flying, ladies.”

Nesta didn’t reply.

He lifted a brow. “No barking and biting today?”

But Nesta didn’t rise to meet him, her face still drained and sallow. “I’ve never worn pants,” was all she said.

I could have sworn concern flashed across Cassian’s features. But he brushed it aside and drawled, “I have no doubt you’d start a riot if you did.”

No reaction. Had the Cauldron—

Cassian stepped in Nesta’s path when she tried to walk past him. Put a tan, callused hand on her forehead. She shook off the touch, but he gripped her wrist, forcing her to meet his stare. “Any one of those human pricks makes a move to hurt you,” he breathed, “and you kill them.”

He wouldn’t be coming—no, he’d be mustering the full might of the Illyrian legions. Azriel would be joining us, though.

Cassian pressed one of his knives into Nesta’s hand. “Ash can kill you now,” he said with lethal quiet as she stared down at the blade. “A scratch can make you queasy enough to be vulnerable. Remember where the exits are in every room, every fence and courtyard—mark them when you go in, and mark how many men are around you. Mark where Rhys and the others are. Don’t forget that you’re stronger and faster. Aim for the soft parts,” he added, folding her fingers around the hilt. “And if someone gets you into a hold …” My sister said nothing as Cassian showed her the sensitive areas on a man.

Not just the groin, but the inside of the foot, pinching the thigh, using her elbow like a weapon. When he finished, he stepped back, his hazel eyes churning with some emotion I couldn’t place.

Nesta surveyed the fine dagger in her hand. Then lifted her head to look at him.

“I told you to come to training,” Cassian said with a cocky grin, and strode off.

I studied Nesta, the dagger, her quiet, still face.

“Don’t even start,” she warned me, and headed for the stairs.



I found Amren in her apartment, cursing at the Book.

“We’re leaving within the hour,” I said. “Do you have everything you need here?”

“Yes.” Amren lifted her head, those uptilted silver eyes swirling with ire. Not at me, I realized with no small relief. At the fact that Hybern had beaten us to the wall. Beaten her.

That wasn’t my problem.

Not as the words of that meeting with the High Lords eddied. Not as I again saw Beron walk out, no soldiers or help promised. Not as I heard Rhys and Cassian discussing how few soldiers the others possessed compared to Hybern’s forces.

The king’s taunt to Rhys had been roiling through my mind for days now.

Hybern expected him to give everything—everything—to stop them. Had claimed only that would give us a fighting shot. And I knew my mate. Perhaps better than I knew myself. I knew Rhys would spend all of himself, destroy himself, if it meant a chance at winning. At survival.

The other High Lords … I couldn’t afford to risk counting on them. Helion, strong as he was, wouldn’t even step in to save his own lover. Tarquin, perhaps. But the others … I didn’t know them. Didn’t have time to. And I would not gamble their tentative allegiance. I would not gamble Rhys.

“What do you want?” Amren snapped when I remained staring at her. “There is a creature beneath the library. Do you know it?”

Amren shut the Book. “Its name is Bryaxis.” “What is it.”

“You do not want to know, girl.”

I shoved back the arm of my ebony dress, the finery so at odds with the

loft, its messiness. “I made a bargain with it.” I showed her the band of tattoo around my forearm. “So I suppose I do.”

Amren stood, brushing dust off her gray pants. “I heard about that. Foolish girl.”

“I had no choice. And now we are bound to each other.” “And what of it?”

“I want to ask it for another bargain. I need you to examine the wards holding it down there—and to explain things.” I didn’t bother to look pleasant. Or desperate. Or grateful. I didn’t bother to wipe the cold, hard mask from my face as I added, “You’re coming with me. Right now.”

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